Eden M. Kennedy

Thanks, but I Don’t Particularly Like to Hug

08.18.09 | 13 Comments

I’m a little behind in my reading, I’m smack in the middle of the whole Lenz thing and it’s kind of making me sick, so I’m going to backtrack a little.

Last week I accused Infinite Jest of having kind of a Kubrickian sterility about it at times, but as I continue reading and the novel continues to blossom for me, I realize how much life is flowing under that apparently detached, often affectless surface.

The scene where James’ father asks for his help to move the mattress, of course, is a classic example of the sort of achingly slow emotional reveal that takes place in small ways throughout the entire novel — and is starting to encompass my experience of the entire book. In the bed scene you’re directed to focus on the physical detail, at first seemingly for its own sake, until it all adds up to reveal a horror recollected with not only the detachment of time but the precision of someone either so removed from or else so overwhelmed by the emotional impact of the sudden, strange death of his father that the physical details of the morning take on a ravishing Technicolor quality. They say time slows down for some people when they’re in car accidents or disasters, they remember the strangest details later — the song on the radio when the phone rang, the dust on the windshield before your head crashed through it. And once you have the whole picture, no matter how blandly or sharply or affectlessly it’s described, a boy running from his parents’ bedroom to his own and jumping on the bed, the slumped mattress in the hallway and the ring of the glass pushed into the carpet all bear the emotional weight of a man watching himself cope with tremendous loss from a distance. A man with a supremely focused scientific mind that can compartmentalize information and zoom in on a detail — a slowly rolling doorknob — that changes the course of his life.

The mirror cracks in the most delightful way, of course, in the very next scene, when Erdedy tries to refuse a hug. All the hemming and hawing and sweaty palms of someone who doesn’t have Himself’s muscular mind to use as a shield, or “Joe L.’s” veil, who uses drugs to keep the world at arm’s length because the fragile infrastructure of his addiction can only remain intact if no one gets close enough to breathe on it, it all gets crushed so shockingly and wonderfully by Roy Tony.

‘You think I fucking like to go around hug on folks? You think any of us like this shit? We fucking do what they tell us. They tell us Hugs Not Drugs in here. We done motherfucking surrendered our wills in here,’ Roy said. ‘You little faggot,’ Roy added. He wedged his hand between them to point at himself, which meant he was now holding Erdedy off the ground with just one hand, which fact was not lost on Erdedy’s nervous system. ‘I done had to give four hugs my first night here and then I gone ran in the fucking can and fucking puked. Puked,’ he said. ‘Not comfortable? Who the fuck are you? Don’t even try and tell me I’m coming over feeling comfortable about trying to hug on your James-River-Traders-wearing-Calvin-Klein-aftershave-smelling-goofy-ass motherfucking ass.’

Erdedy observed one of the Afro-American women who was looking on clap her hands and shout ‘Talk about it!’

‘And now you go and disrespect me in front of my whole clean and sober set just when I gone risk sharing my vulnerability and discomfort with you?’. . .

‘Now,’ Roy said, extracting his free hand and pointing to the vestry floor with a stabbing gesture, ‘now,’ he said, ‘you gone risk vulnerability and discomfort and hug my ass or do I gone fucking rip your head off and shit down your neck?’

If Erdedy were a different man, a man whose mind was so strong it could shield his heart from both its own needs and the needs of others, he wouldn’t have climbed up on Roy Tony’s neck and not let go, I suppose. But I love that he had enough strength and trust to desperation to give himself over and let Roy Tony destroy his pathetic facade. And we get to see that Roy Tony, as he clears his addiction away, has the heart of a lion.

This is getting long so I’ll just add that I’m also very interested to see if Joelle can continue to justify her own draped existence.